Buying Guns and Ammo in Hawaii

DISCLAIMER: It is your full responsibility to make sure the firearm, ammunition, or accessories you are purchasing is legal for you to own in your state or jurisdiction. The information contained throughout this web site, including the firearm and ammunition state guide provided below, is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.

In this piece, we discuss the ammunition and firearms laws in Hawaii, so that you can better understand the legal processes for buying, owning, and carrying in the state. The gun and ammo laws in Hawaii are among the strictest in the nation, both from what is written in those laws themselves, as well as some of the enforcement practices that have been uncovered by local journalism.

To give the reader a sense of the relevant laws and practices in the state, we start here with the ammunition buying process in the state. Having done that, the piece then details the firearms laws in the state, including bans, the purchasing process, and the laws around carrying firearms.

This piece is not intended as legal advice. Instead, we hope that you find this as a good base of information for those who are looking to educate themselves on firearms laws in Hawaii.

Much of the information in this piece comes from Chapter 134 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which codifies most of the relevant laws in the state.

Many states have a statute that asserts preemption, the idea that localities cannot make laws that are stricter than those at the state level when it comes to, in this case, firearms and ammunition. Hawaii has no such statute, but the state supreme court has ruled that the authority of local governments comes exclusively from state statutes, and thus the authority of the state government is higher than that of localities.

This means that there is de facto preemption in Hawaii: no locality can make gun laws that are stricter than the ones at the state level unless the state legislature gives that locality the power to do so by statute. In practical terms, this means that a single set of firearm and ammunition laws apply throughout the state. 

Ammo Laws/Buying Ammo in Hawaii 

First, we will cover Hawaii’s ammo laws.

On paper, the ammunition laws of Hawaii are fairly permissive. The state does not require a permit or background check to purchase ammunition, but there is a ban on armor-piercing and explosive ammunition.

The main guidelines to buy ammunition in the state come from the federal level. The ATF’s rules mandate that people have to meet both an age requirement and not be a prohibited person in order to buy ammo. The age requirements are eighteen years of age to buy rifle or shotgun ammunition, and twenty-one to buy pistol ammunition. Prohibited persons, generally those convicted of felonies or domestic abuse, those who have been found mentally unfit in a court of law, or those involuntarily committed to mental health facilities, cannot buy guns or ammo at all.

The major issue in getting ammunition to Hawaii is the shipping. Since ammunition is, in fact, lots of small explosive charges, USPS is unwilling to ship it at all, and other carriers will not ship it by air. In the continental US, this leaves the reasonable options of trucks and trains. Since Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the only way to get ammunition there is to ship it via, well, ship. This makes it prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for most sellers to deal with, and, thus, most retailers will not ship ammunition to residential addresses in the state even though it is legal to do so. 

Thus, buying ammunition in the state is probably best done in person to avoid the expense and hassle of shipping overseas: prices in the state are usually quite high compared to on the mainland for most things, and ammo will not be an exception.

Once you do have some ammunition, the same law that banned armor-piercing rounds also bans magazines over ten rounds in capacity. There is also a state law mandating that people have a safe place, such as a locking cabinet or safe, in which to store firearms and ammunition. While the armor-piercing ammunition ban is not in and of itself unusual, the safe storage requirements and shipping hurdles to the state make it practically difficult to acquire and afford ammunition in Hawaii. 

Gun Laws/Buying Guns in Hawaii

Next, we will do the same exercise for Hawaii’s gun laws.

The firearms laws in Hawaii are among the strictest in the nation. Before buying a gun, one has to get a permit from the state to do so. This permitting process demands that people be 21, take classes, and wait for at least two weeks after passing a background check.

In terms of bans, there are several in the state. First, machine guns, suppressors, and short-barreled rifles/shotguns are banned in the state. This means that NFA items are off-limits to everyone but law enforcement and military personnel in Hawaii.  The state does not have a standard assault weapons ban that, for instance, usually covers rifles and shotguns. Instead, Hawaii bans “assault pistols” and defines them in a way that appears to target AR and AK pistols. As long as the ten-round magazine requirement in the state is met, the standard rifle configurations of both platforms are still legal in the state.

After getting the permit in the state, there are no additional waiting periods imposed: the permitting waiting period is, basically, a default two-week waiting period for people who want to begin purchasing firearms. At the gun store itself, the federal process is followed: the buyer must fill out Form 4473, and, after completing the background check and paying, can leave with the firearm the same day. 

For private sales of handguns, the seller is required to both see a copy of the buyer’s state permit and mail a copy of that permit to the local police department within two days of the transfer. 

The state, through local police departments, has several kinds of carry permits. For the average person who wants to concealed carry a firearm in Hawaii, this permitting process requires a class, a written test, and a shooting test in addition to a background check. This is one of the stricter permitting regimes in the country.

While Hawaii also offers open carry permits, a recent court case found that the state is completely unwilling to issue its open carry permits. Thus, actually getting a permit to legally carry a firearm in the state is different on paper than in practice. The state, in this case, is less willing than it appears to issue permits to carry. The permit, once issued, has somewhat widespread reciprocity with the continental US, though, notably, not with the closest states on the West Coast.

If one does manage to get a concealed carry permit in Hawaii, there are some places still off-limits for carrying, including:

  • Public transit

  • Schools

  • Polling places

  • Public parks

  • City-owned buildings 

  • Medical facilities of any kind

  • Any business that sells alcohol

  • State and Federally-owned buildings

Hawaii’s list of prohibited places is among the strictest in the nation, meaning that even with a carry permit, it might be deeply impractical to carry a firearm anywhere in public due to the risk of major legal liability.

Hawaii’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation, and, in practice, it is nearly impossible to either get a permit or, even with a permit, carry guns legally in public. The above-linked court case brings up an interesting historical point: gun control has been a part of Hawaiian law since the middle of the 19th century, long before Hawaii became a state. The colonial legacy of arms control (one of the major reasons for the Second Amendment in the first place) is clear: keeping a population disarmed is a means by which governments seek to control the people. Hawaiian gun ownership is both highly restricted and difficult to practice for law-abiding people. 

Sales Tax on Guns/Ammo in Hawaii 

Hawaii has a general sales tax of 4%, and some localities add an additional half a percent. But, that’s not the whole story on taxes in the state: there’s a General Excise tax on goods that all businesses have to pay, and many businesses will increase their prices to account for this. Between sales tax, excise taxes, and the shipping cost involved, firearms and ammunition are certainly more expensive in Hawaii than they are in most other places in the country. 

More Resources:

  • The ATF maintains a list of all FFLs in the country, including in Hawaii. Generally, gun stores are Type 1 or Type 2 FFLs. 

  • There are a number of good gun ranges in the state. 

  • There are several well-rated gun stores in the state as well. 

  • 2aHawaii is an active forum for folks interested in firearms, with especially active legal sections to talk about the state’s laws.

Hawaii Gun Laws FAQ:

Legally, yes. With that said, no carriers are willing to do so by air, and the only way to ship ammo to Hawaii is via boat. Thus, buying locally is probably the best option here.

The state does allow permitted concealed carry. But, the state has been increasingly stingy in approving those permits, and the list of places where carry is prohibited makes it difficult to carry in many public places.

Sort of: semi automatic rifles are allowed, although there is a magazine restriction of ten or fewer rounds. But there is a ban on “assault” pistols, which basically outlaws AR and AK pistols.

It is legal, on paper, to openly carry a firearm in the state with a permit. However, the state is totally unwilling to grant said permits, and, thus, open carry is basically illegal in Hawaii.

There is a two-week waiting period to get the state-issued permit to purchase any firearms in the state, whether from private sellers or FFLs. There is no waiting period at the time of purchase, however.